Real Business #15 Berwick Devoil Healthcare

  • Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The interviews are undertaken by Keith Lewis of The Courier.

    Berwick Devoil Healthcare logoBERWICK Devoil (BDHL) is a privately-owned firm of Independent Financial Advisers specialising in healthcare insurance.

    Originally created by Mrs Hazel Nightingale and her husband Tony Colwell in 1995, BDHL was acquired on January 1, 2002 by Harvey Holdings Limited, a holding company vehicle owned 50:50 by Guy Jones and Richard Harding.

    Berwick Devoil has been a succss. Employing seven people including the directors, the company generates premium income of £6.5 million per annum selling mainly private medical insurance, dental insurance, income protection policies, life assurance and cash plans. The majority of its clients are companies providing benefits for their employees, although it also caters for individuals who tend to be high net worth.

    Berwick Devoil faces a number of challenges. "The company is successful", said Mr Jones, "but our problem is getting to the next level. Healthcare is not the most exciting or popular of insurances and we have difficulty in recruiting the right sales assistants. The day of ‘cold calling' is dead - it just doesn't work for us. Much of my time is spent pounding the pavements and networking with other professional advisers, such as accountants and solicitors. We have also invested heavily in improving our website."

    He added "We are happiest working with small to medium-sized companies, where the number of employees is between 15 and 25 and where every penny counts. We offer a personal service, which is something the big companies are unwilling to provide - they are simply not geared for it. However, we can still lose business, not because of something we've done wrong, but because some of the larger companies will throw in healthcare insurance as a loss leader in order to get the more lucrative business. We can also lose an account when our client is taken over by a bigger company."

    "Our annual premium income is stable, but we do seem to have reached a plateau and we are running hard to stand still. We probably have the capacity to increase our premium income by 10-15 per cent without adding to the overhead."

    The Marketing Eye says:

    Guy observes that the days of cold calling are dead, but I wonder if they were ever really alive!

    When a need arises for services of this nature, people buy first from people they know, trust and like - so the marketing challenge is to close the ‘trust gap'. Guy should think like a buyer and imagine his potential customers in the form of a pyramid.

    At the top of the pyramid are currently satisfied customers who will naturally be the most receptive, swiftly followed by people who are referred by a trusted source. Face-to-face networking is undoubtedly important for this, but so too is social networking where blogging, Facebook and Twitter can be used to build relationships and underline expertise - Berwick Devoil needs to be on the tip of people's tongues when somebody asks for a recommendation.

    Next in the hierarchy are potential customers who know Berwick Devoil, but have yet to buy - so going back over previous prospects where the deal wasn't closed could bear fruit.

    There are relatively few short cuts to converting brand new prospects as building trust takes time.  Guy might strike lucky with cold calling, but on the whole he could do more harm than good to his brand.  Calling people who are showing interest in his other communications is, however, an entirely different matter.

    People who don't already know a supplier and can't get a recommendation elsewhere will conduct searches, principally on the internet - so work on the website and search marketing is sensible.  With no other basis of assessment, price becomes a huge decider for these buyers to the point where it becomes a commodity sale.  Work should be done to build a relationship before a price is quoted.

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